Bartonella: Cat Scratch Fever

Bartonella, also known as cat scratch fever, infects up to 20 percent of the cat population, especially in warm, humid areas where fleas and ticks are more likely to live. The best way to prevent bartonella is preventative flea and tick medication as the disease is easily spread in multi-cat households.

Bartonella Symptoms

Bartonella is caused by bacteria transmitted by fleas or ticks. The bacteria are covered with hair-like surfaces that allow it to penetrate the cat's red blood cells and cause a variety of problems, depending on where the infection occurred. The disease can then be spread to other pets or people who are scratched or bitten by the infected cat.

A variety of symptoms include gingivitis, oral ulcers, upper respiratory disease, rhinitis, sinusitis, eye diseases, corneal ulcers, chronic vomiting or diarrhea, enlarged lymph nodes and fever. The symptoms depend on the tissues to which the infected red blood cells spread.

The most common form of bartonella is the cat scratch fever form, which begin with a red bump at the site of the bite or scratch. This will cause enlarged lymph nodes that become inflammed, enlarged and painful. These lumps may eventually burst and drain.

Diagnosis and Treatment

No matter what the symptoms, bartonella can be diagnosed by a simple blood test, which reveals the presence of the bacteria in the red blood cells. Many veterinarians, especially those in warmer climates with higher instances of bartonella, recommend that even asymptomatic cats be tested if they are at high risk.

Cats are determined to be high risk if they were found on the streets, obtained from a shelter, live with an infected cat or have recently had a flea infestation. The disease is highly contagious and is more common in younger cats since they are more likely to be playful and thus scratch or bite one another.

Treatment is also simple, once diagnosed. Antibiotics clear up the infection easily.

Prevention of Bartonella

Prevention is the easiest way to treat bartonella. Since the bacteria is transmitted through fleas and ticks or infected cats, keeping up with your flea and tick preventative medication will keep the disease from your home. This is especially important if you have more than one cat or allow your cats outdoors.

If you would like to take extra precaution, keep your cats indoors, don't let your cats come in contact with strange cats, and vacuum and spray carpets for fleas regularly. Since fleas can live dormant in your carpet for up to a year, it's important to treat flea infestations preventatively if you prefer not to use flea medication directly on your cat.

Though bartonella can have serious, painful symptoms, it is easy to treat and prevent. If you believe your cat to be high risk for contracting the disease, have his blood tested regularly.